There are times in life when almost anything is better than the
devil you know.
Sergio Lorca may be a superlative media man, he may simply be - like old
age - so much better than the alternative, but there’s no doubting the
audible sigh of relief with which some greeted his appointment as
Initiative Media’s new European chief last week.
The amiable Spaniard - short, bald and, apparently, a thoroughly
likeable bloke - replaces Jeffrey Merrihue, who moves to a new worldwide
role that better plays to his strengths. And the agency that only a week
or two ago was mourning the loss of pounds 130 million of business now
has a fresh air of optimism about it.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that Initiative seems rather chipper about
its new chap. After all, those who have worked with Merrihue say that,
despite his sparks of kick-ass dynamism and creativity, he was just a
little too good at playing the bulldozer in the Wedgwood warehouse.
Lorca, reassuringly, is an altogether more considered player, a media
man with a proven track record at Initiative (regional director of Latin
America in the late 90s), bags of client (Unilever, wouldn’t you know
it) and media owner (Spain’s Prisa) experience, and a sensitivity that
will come as a welcome relief to his staff.
’He just gets it,’ says one of Lorca’s new team, who is already
impressed by his new colleague’s understanding of the media industry and
the requirements of a major global network - qualities that you might
think are pre-requisites for the job but which Initiative staffers are
touchingly cheered to find in their new boss.
Initiative Worldwide’s president, Marie-Jose Forissier, says: ’His keen
instincts and skilled international management experience make him the
clear choice to lead the company in Europe.’ Phew!
However, ’getting it’ is a bare necessity for the task that lies
While Initiative stands tall as one of the largest global media networks
(75 offices in 35 countries spanning six continents and dollars 13.8
billion in global billings), it also has some issues that need serious
For a start, the recent loss of LVMH to Carat across Europe (no pitch,
just a thank-you-and-goodnight fax cooly dispatched from LVMH’s French
headquarters to terminate Initiative’s contract) and of Peugeot
Citroen’s pounds 75 million UK business (also to Carat) suggest that
Initiative’s top-level international client relationships need a little,
And although Initiative is a truly impressive network, there are some
local market anomalies that need to be ironed out.
In Italy, for example, Initiative languishes outside the major
A similar situation in Germany was recently rectified by the launch of a
more integrated Interpublic Group media offering, with Initiative and
its sister IPG media operation, Universal McCann, working more closely
together. This formula is now an option in Italy.
Then there’s the question of Western Media in the UK, not a bad little
sister brand but one whose rationale seems hard to argue in the light of
Initiative London’s depleted client list. Once the Renault pan-European
media pitch is resolved (Initiative is still in with a chance, albeit a
slim one), there seems little doubt that Western and Initiative will
merge in the UK, and Lorca will have to weave the delicate politics
For the moment, though, Lorca won’t commit: ’There is a strong
possibility that we will merge, that’s true. We will try to do things
that are for the benefit of our clients and, yes, size does give you
power, but it’s not necessarily the best option.’
There’s also the issue of Initiative’s brand positioning. Initiative has
concentrated on being clever, trying to snaffle the upstream end of the
media market and nudge its way into the client’s boardroom.
Generating fee income from consultancy services such as the analytics
offering spearheaded by Merrihue is an important cornerstone of the
Forissier says that ’growing with your clients’ business, becoming their
strategic partner, seems a more attractive proposition than piling on
But Lorca will have to balance this positioning with the growing trend
for international pitches, where size and price are, of course, easier
yardsticks on which to judge networks than clever thinking.
Lorca, a civil engineer by training, says he’s now got to sit down and
’review all the systems we have here, make sure they’re working smoothly
and effectively’. There are no dramatic statements of intent, no rockets
being stuffed up bottoms, no unveilings of aggressive strategies; Lorca
is simply going to review what’s required.
It doesn’t make for great headlines, nor for instant public profile, but
then that was Merrihue’s forte and Lorca isn’t the devil you know.
THE LORCA FILE
Lever Brothers, Spain, marketing services manager
Initiative Media Lisbon, managing director
IM Latin America, regional director
Prisa, general manager of business development
IM Europe, chief executive